Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Great Blue Heron

Photo courtesy Kathy Ricca
Some of us are fortunate to find companions among the other creatures, and in this poem by T. Alan Broughton of Vermont, we sense a kind of friendship without dependency between our species and another. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Great Blue Heron
I drive past him each day in the swamp where he stands
on one leg, hunched as if dreaming of his own form
the surface reflects. Often I nearly forget to turn left,
buy fish and wine, be home in time to cook and chill.
Today the bird stays with me, as if I am moving through
the heron’s dream to share his sky or water—places
he will rise into on slow flapping wings or where
his long bill darts to catch unwary frogs. I’ve seen
his slate blue feathers lift him as dangling legs
fold back, I’ve seen him fly through the dying sun
and out again, entering night, entering my own sleep.
I only know this bird by a name we’ve wrapped him in,
and when I stand on my porch, fish in the broiler,
wine glass sweating against my palm, glint of sailboats
tacking home on dusky water, I try to imagine him
slowly descending to his nest, wise as he was
or ever will be, filling each moment with that moment’s
act or silence, and the evening folds itself around me.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by T. Alan Broughton from his most recent book of poetry, A World Remembered, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010. Reprinted by permission of T. Alan Broughton and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Share/Bookmark

Monday, June 27, 2011

Things I Love About Florida

If I’m honest, from now until about November, I am pretty unhappy about living in Florida. Summers here are brutal—heat in the 90s with matching humidity, giving us heat index ratings in the 100s for days on end. And there are no cool mornings or evenings to offer a break—mornings and evenings may be a teeny bit cooler, yes, but just as humid which is what bothers me the most. It’s like having a hot, wet towel thrown over your head.

Anyway this post is not supposed to be a long complaint about the weather (see: title). It’s supposed to be about what I love about Florida—things I will concentrate on when the humidity makes me wish I never set foot in this state. Here are a few:

Florida skies. Whether they’re bright blue or swirled with soft-serve clouds, Florida skies are breathtaking. I moved here from Southern California, where the sky was usually a flat gray or even white with few clouds to liven up the expanse. I know there must have been plenty of blue-sky days, but they were nothing to the daily show Florida’s skies put on.


Birds. I never paid much attention to birds until I moved to Florida—but having Sandhill Cranes in your back yard will get your attention. In addition to the cranes, which raise babies all over town every year, I’ve seen pileated woodpeckers, roseate spoonbills, and great blue herons in our subdivision, along with countless other species. We have a long, rectangular retention pond not far from our house, and I keep meaning to walk down there with my camera and bird book and see how many birds I can identify. We’ve had Carolina wrens build a nest and raise a batch of babies in our garage and another at the base of a potted bougainvillea. When I walk the dog at night, sometimes I hear an owl.

Sandhill cranes (not my yard, though!)
Other wildlife. Our subdivision backs up to conservation land, so we have the occasional wild visitor. In addition to regular alligator sightings, we’ve seen deer, foxes, rabbits, gopher tortoises and bobcats in our neighborhood. Wild boars regularly wander in and sometimes have to be trapped if they begin to tear up too many yards. We’re infested with squirrels, as well as frogs, toads, skinks and (gulp!) snakes. (I could really live without the snakes, but I guess I have to accept whatever nature throws at me!) We will not discuss the abundant insect life because this is about what I LIKE about Florida…


Thunder—if I’m safely inside*. I love the rumbly, grumbly sound of rolling thunder from a summer storm. Our wimpy California storms had nothing like Florida thunder, which can sometimes shake the windows. Few things are cosier than lying in bed listening to thunder and the patter of rain drops. *Unfortunately, I’m terrified of lightning!


I know there are more things I could list that I love about Florida if I thought about it harder. Ask me again in February, and I’ll come up with a whole new list!

What are some things you love about where you live?

Share/Bookmark

Friday, June 24, 2011

Painless Progress

I recently learned of another Japanese concept that I find interesting and encouraging: Kaizen. Kaizen is the process of continual improvement through small and incremental steps. It started as a Japanese management concept and continues to be used in business, as well as in areas such as psychology and life coaching. It reinforces my belief that as long as you keep moving forward, even if by baby steps, you will eventually get where you’re going.

One of the beauties of Kaizen is that the steps can be so small that you don’t mind doing them over and over again, until they become habit. Once established as habit, you don’t have to think about them anymore. Kaizen encourages the practice of starting with something easy so you’ll see immediate benefits to encourage you to continue. I’ve got several ongoing projects/issues that are not going as well or as quickly as I’d like. In addition to trying to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed, I’ve been casting around for ways to make some small changes that I hope will jump start me. For example, I want to get back to sketching, and I’d like to take off a few pounds. My plan is to replace some of the time I spend watching TV at night with doing yoga, or with sketching. Not for hours, and not every night—maybe just 15-20 minutes three times a week to start with. To make it easy, I’ll keep my yoga props handy in my bedroom, and a few sketching supplies in a basket in the family room so that I don’t spend time searching for what I need to get started.

I find Kaizen comforting. Changing small things doesn’t scare me, and I believe I’ll make more progress by doing a little every day (or most days) than if I become too harsh a taskmaster for myself. I already regularly use a kitchen timer for short timed-writing sessions (it’s amazing how much you can write in 15 minutes if you just keep the pen moving), so I know this can work.

What small, incremental steps can you take on your way to your dreams?

For a much more thorough and inspiring exploration of Kaizen in regard to goals and dreams, visit Kaizenvision.com.

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

While the Sun Shines


“Some people are making such thorough plans for rainy days that they aren't enjoying today's sunshine.”
--William Feather

Share/Bookmark

Friday, June 17, 2011

Every Minute Is a Choice

On impulse, I began reading an interesting book this morning after watching this short video (I was able to download it electronically from my libary system—how cool is that?!): 


 The book, 168 Hours, by Laura Vanderkam, explains that everyone is given the same amount of time per week: 168 hours. What we do with that is up to us. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but already I’ve had my thinking about time shaken up a bit. The point of the book: “You can choose how to spend your 168 hours, and you have more time than you think.”

I have to admit I was initially a bit resistant. Was this another attempt to get me to pack more into my days? And didn’t sleep matter? I mean, I need seven to eight hours a night and that only leaves me with about 119 hours a week… (Can you hear me starting to make excuses?)

Vanderkam states that for various reasons we overestimate the amount of time we spend working and doing chores. She recommends keeping a time log for a week to see where your time goes (you can download and print your own time log here). I absolutely know I squander a lot of time fooling around on the Internet (while calling it research…) and I watch more TV than I should, but mostly when I have the TV on, I’m doing something else at the same time—like cleaning the kitchen, making dinner or folding laundry. I also suspect that I do certain things than don’t actually need doing, or maybe, don’t need doing by me. I feel like I’m packing my days full with activities…and I am. But am I packing them full of things that are meaningful and important, and that I can do better than others? As one of Vanderkam’s interview subjects said, “Every minute I spend is my choice.”

One of my “Twelve Commandments” is There is time enough. I’m hopeful that 168 Hours will help me remember that, and use my time in a more meaningful fashion.

I’ll continue to read 168 Hours this weekend and I’m excited to learn more. I may find that the nuts and bolts of her approach don't suit my personality, or that her suggestions aren't practical--but even if I don't agree with her 100%, I'm sure I'll learn something.

How will you spend your time this weekend?

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hurry

Here is one of my favorite mother-daughter poems, by Marie Howe, who lives in New York City and who has a charming little girl. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Hurry
We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I'm sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Marie Howe, and reprinted from "When She Named Fire," ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009. First published in "The Kingdom of the Ordinary" by Marie Howe, W.W. Norton, 2008. Used by permission of Marie Howe and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation.


Share/Bookmark

Monday, June 13, 2011

Speaking of Books...

How are your reading challenges going? I’m plugging along on my “Off the Shelf” challenge, now having read nine of the 15 I’d committed to (see complete list of books read here) and we’re only about halfway through the year. I’d feel better about that if I could just stop myself from buying more books! At the rate I’m going, I’ll have refilled my “to read” shelf with 15 (possibly more!) new books. Oh, well. I guess if I keep reading significant numbers of books I’ve stockpiled, they won’t actually take over my house, and eventually I’ll clear out the piles. (A girl can dream.)

Anyway, despite the problem of the magically refilling to-read shelf, I’m happy with my progress. A couple of highlights:

I bought Treasure in a Cornfield: The Discovery and Excavation of the Steamboat Arabia after I visited the Arabia museum in Missouri (see my account of that visit here). Written by one of the excavators, it’s surprisingly readable and gave a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges of the excavation. And believe me, there were challenges.

Some of the Arabia's cargo
Traveling With Pomegranates, by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, delighted me from start to finish. I fall somewhere in between them in age and stage of life, and can identify with both. They alternate telling the story of two trips they took together to Greece (and one to France). I fell in love with Greece when I visited a few years ago, and deeply identified with something Sue wrote: “…I was a little shocked at how displaced I felt inside. So much of my sense of self had been altered in Greece, far more than I realized. Old understandings of myself as a woman, a mother, a writer, and a person in search of the spiritual were unraveled by my experiences over there, by the places themselves.”

The other challenge I signed up for was the Vintage Mystery Challenge, and I could have completed that one in about two weeks…but I have chosen to spread it out over the year. The vintage mystery (think Agatha Christie) is one of my favorite genres, and I’ve already read three of the 4-6 I signed on for. Since I last checked in here, I’ve read The Norths Meet Murder (Frances and Richard Lockridge) and 13 Clues for Miss Marple. The Norths are new to me, and this book was the first in a series. I didn’t like this as well as the first Campion book I talked about, but the characters were interesting enough that I have the second book on reserve at the library. 13 Clues is a collection of short stories featuring Christie’s fluffy old lady sleuth Miss Marple. Even though I’d read it before years ago, I didn’t remember the stories and chose it when I needed a comfort read.

Now that school is out, I’m making summer reading plans. Since we spruced up the lanai. I plan to plop myself down in the chaise with a good book every chance I get. I just watched Ken Burns’ documentary on Mark Twain, and I think I’ll pick up MT’s autobiography. (I may put it down again just as quickly, but I want to give it a shot!) I’ve also got “Off the Shelf” books Sullivan’s Island (Dorothea Benton Frank) and The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins) lined up.

What are your summer reading plans? Do you have a theme like some bloggers I know?

Share/Bookmark

Friday, June 10, 2011

Out of Chaos...

This week, my husband and I were simultaneously seized by the desire to redo the planters that surround our pool—a dangerous occurrence resulting in much spending, digging, sweating, planting and neglecting of other activities.


And chaos.


Two trips to the nursery and six hours (apiece) later, we’ve achieved our goal. What do you think?


We rearranged our container plants to blend in with the planters, replaced soil, fertilized, and topped off the beds with pine straw. I even have a tiny containerized herb garden:


We’re ready for some serious lounging outside now that we’ve cut down on the “Oh, that needs to be fixed,” items. Time to pour that cold drink and pick up that book…


Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Inhale...


“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live. She read books as one would breathe ether, to sink in and die.”
--Annie Dillard, The Living: A Novel

Share/Bookmark

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday's Gift

Today is an ordinary Monday, and I couldn’t be happier.

Monday is one of my favorite days. After the weekend, I’m usually refreshed and ready to tackle a new week. On Mondays, I walk with a neighborhood friend for exercise. Our subdivision’s four-mile paved trail takes us just under an hour to walk, and we usually spend that time talking so it seems quicker. I love getting in a good walk on Monday morning—I feel like I’m starting my day and my week off right.

Walkable
On Monday, I usually spend time reading emails and blogs, getting back in touch with my virtual friends and acquaintances. If I haven’t already done so (and despite my best intentions, I probably have not), I plan my own blog posts for the week, writing, researching and choosing photos.

Usually, Monday offers me time to read a book on writing or an issue of Poets & Writers, which contains so much good stuff that I’m usually behind by several issues. I also like to read books and articles that might help me with blog posts, or with my own still-in-the-infant-stage book. If I have freelance assignments, I devote a block of time to working on them.

On Monday, I take a few minutes to tidy up our family room. I change our sheets, and today I also replaced our comforter with a cooler, matelasse coverlet. I water plants, pause to pet Scout, work on the accumulated mountain of laundry, and so on.

Huggable
Monday is a puttery day—full of pleasant tasks that make me feel I’m contributing to a smooth and happy home life, while still exercising my body, my mind and my creativity. It’s probably the most balanced day of my week. I don’t schedule appointments if I can help it, and I love the swath of time before me, mine for the filling. Monday helps me remember I have choices. I can choose with what attitude I view my work and activities; I can organize that work to follow my natural energy patterns. It reminds me that work can be as enjoyable as play.

Monday shows me that I can control what I do with my time. I can relax into it, flow from job to job, and things go smoothly. I can, for at least one day, quiet the voices in my head that tell me I’m not doing enough. Maybe soon Monday’s gift will spill over into other days of the week.

What’s your favorite day of the week, and why? What does your “perfect” day look like?

Share/Bookmark

Friday, June 3, 2011

Altered Adages

I love a good adage. You know—a pithy little combo of words that sums up a principle for living in an easily-remembered fashion. To make things interesting—or confusing, as the case may be—adages can be contradictory: “Birds of a feather flock together” vs. “Opposites attract,” or “Many hands make light work” vs. “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Since I love playing with words, I tweaked a few adages to see if I could come up with some new ones. Here are three for your consideration:

“Money is time.” Actually, I stumbled on this phrase in the book A Writer’s Time, by Kenneth Atchity. While it’s true that time is money, it also works the other way round. Sometimes convenience is worth paying for. Paying someone to do errands or chores, for example, can free us up to do other valuable and important things.

“Bloom where you aren’t planted.” We’ve all heard we should “bloom where we are planted”—accept our circumstances and allow ourselves to blossom and grow, even if our situation isn’t ideal. But what if you know your circumstances are temporary? Maybe you’re two years away from an empty nest, you know you’ll be transferred by your employer, or you’re a student about to graduate and move into a new stage of life. Are you putting off really living until your circumstances change? Don’t wait for that change. Start blooming right now.

Do you see trees or forest? Or both?
“Can’t see the trees for the forest.” The original adage (“can’t see the forest for the trees”) reminds us it’s possible to overlook the big picture by being distracted by the details. However, sometimes looking at the whole can be overwhelming, making us unable to see the individual small steps that can take us to our goal.

Do you have any favorite adages? Which one(s) would you alter?

Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


“If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don’t lift to the horizon; our ears don’t hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days.”
--Kent Nerburn.

Share/Bookmark